How to Define Your Company’s Purpose and Spark Greater Success
(This is an edited transcript of the Construction Genius podcast episode: GO DEEPER: HOW TO DEFINE PURPOSE AND SPARK YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS)
Every car on the road exists for the same basic purpose to transport people. But for many car owners, there is a deeper purpose to the car that they drive.
What words spring to mind when you think of why you have your vehicle? Is it safety, power, fun, freedom, comfort? The deeper purpose of a car depends on how the car is built along with the motives, perceptions, and feelings of the person driving it.
When I first met my wife, she drove an SUV. It was perfect for the ski trips that we used to go on.
After we got married and had kids, though, we switched to the Honda Odyssey minivan. It’s the perfect vehicle for stuffing a bunch of kids in.
It had coffee stains and food stains and all kinds of other stains all over the car. But a couple of years ago, I upgraded my wife’s car from the Honda Odyssey to a GMC Yukon. We went back to the SUV and she was super excited. It’s interesting because the Odyssey and the Yukon both fit the family. They’re both reliable.
There was a deeper purpose beyond transportation that drove the purchase of the SUV.
Like a car, every business exists for a basic and deeper purpose: to make money
The best businesses, though, have a deeper purpose; a deeper reason for existence that energizes the company.
The best companies understand what that purpose is and they use it as a spark to their success.
In this article, we are going to explore three things:
- Why is having a deep purpose for your business important?
- How do you craft a deep purpose for your business? How do you articulate it and express it?
(I’m also going to give you some examples from real construction companies to help you along in your thinking.)
- Lastly, we’re also going to talk about how to use the deep purpose of your business in your daily decisions.
But first, some credits…
Upfront, I want to give credit right away to folks like Jim Collins, who wrote the book Built to Last. Patrick Lencioni, who wrote the book The Advantage, and Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.
Each one of these authors has insightful ideas around this thought of purpose and they’ve definitely influenced the way that I think.
Why is having a deep purpose for your business important?
And so let’s dove into this topic here today. Why do you think having a deep purpose is so important?
Think about the first question that you asked when you were young. You might not be able to remember it, but think about the first question that your kids ask. That first question is “Why?”.
It seems like this desire for purpose and meaning is embedded deep within human nature. It’s not something necessarily that can be explained. It just exists.
And if you think about a small child asking “Why?”, what are they really seeking to do through that question? What are they seeking to define and understand? Why are they trying to bring meaning to their world?
That’s why having a deep purpose for your business is important. You want to be able to define your business and understand how it should operate. You want to tap into the deep meaning of the business for you.
Today, I’m speaking specifically to business owners, to senior executives. We’re also going to talk about this idea to the skin in the game.
The Deep Purpose Behind a Construction Company
Think about the construction business. It’s difficult. It’s risky. It requires dedication. Competition is fierce.
Having that deep sense of purpose can be extremely inspirational that can help you through those difficult situations. You need to be inspired. You need your mind and your emotions to be tuned in such a way that you’re able to get through the difficulties and challenges you face.
Having that deep sense of purpose and understanding it, allowing it to guide you, will keep you from a life of regret.
Before, man, I just went through the motions in my business. I failed to do my best, to be my best, and to make my mark for the benefit of others.
Knowing that deep sense of purpose can guide you in such a way that you don’t have to live a life of regret, or a life of wondering, or just getting by, or just being another existence.
Just imagine… just being another contractor, another G.C., another guy, another gal, just someone who shows up.
These people do an OK job, but there’s a lack of excellence, a lack of uniqueness, especially when you understand the deep purpose for your business.
Your deep purpose really helps you to understand how you’re unique in comparison to other contractors and how that uniqueness can benefit your clients.
It also keeps you from a life of grasping, from going after the shiny object, because as we’re going to see in a little bit, a deep sense of purpose helps to define and articulate your strategy, your operations, and how you run your business. It’s so important to be able to define that. It really sets apart the great companies from the “just okay” ones.
Purpose also leads to fulfillment. Every business solves problems and adds value, otherwise folks wouldn’t be giving you money. But when you have that sense of purpose and you’re executing on that, living it out and it results in that contribution, there’s a real sense of fulfillment.
And the clearer you have that sense of purpose, I believe, the clearer and the more satisfying is that sense of fulfillment. That sense of deep purpose enables you to make a contribution.
Your business is designed for you to better contribute to your clients, to your employees and to your communities.
As we talk about this idea of purpose, you can tell that we’re in the realm of subjectivity. You may think that perhaps it’s not for everyone. But for many of the clients that I work with, having that sense of deep purpose became fundamental to their organizations, and that’s why it’s important that you spend time defining what your deep purpose is.
So let’s talk about that now.
How to Craft the Deep Purpose of Your Business
Gather your core team.
This is where I want to talk about this idea of skin in the game.
Think about the risk that you have taken launching a construction company, buying into a construction company, or owning a construction company.
Someone who has skin in the game is an individual who assumes risk related to their decisions, to their strategies, and to their activities.
If someone doesn’t have skin in the game, they are removed from caring about the decisions that are made. Thus, when you’re looking to craft that deep purpose of your business, start by gathering your core team.
It may only be a small group of people. It may just be you and your business partner, or it may be you and folks who are gonna be buying you out of your business at some point. It may be a group of senior executives who all have skin in the game. All have commitment. They’re just not fly by night folks who are here for a little bit and then they’re going to move on to another company. Gather these stakeholders, the people whose wealth is tied up in your organization.
The reason you want to do this is that if you bring in the other folks, you can risk diluting the message. This idea of finding out your deeper purpose is not a team-building exercise, although it does result in teams being built.
It’s not primarily to unify your organization. The assumption is that those people involved in discovering your deep purpose and articulating it are already committed and unified to the business.
Don’t let a little bit of lack of commitment dilute the thinking around your deeper purpose.
As you are crafting that deep purpose, you may want to bring a facilitator in. Facilitators always give you time to think. The best facilitators will be able to hear the group speaking and synthesize the thoughts of the group into one or two key thoughts and to do it in such a way so that you can actually hear yourself in what is being related back to you. That idea of synthesis, of hearing the way you talk, and framing your ideas back to you is the way that you speak in your language. That’s one of the arts of facilitation that can be extremely helpful to you.
But whether you get a facilitator or not, you always want to get that core team.
Set aside time.
Aside from that, you also want to set aside time. Finding out your deeper purpose can take hours. It doesn’t necessarily have to take days, particularly if you have a vigorous, honest, authentic conversation, but you should definitely set aside at least a couple of hours to have the discussion.
As you kick off the discussion, think back to when you started your business, what drove you? What drove you to start your business?
I don’t have a construction company, but I know what drove me to start my business. I was driven by two things: freedom and fun.
The one thing that I want in my life is freedom. Freedom of time. Freedom of who I do business with. Financial freedom. Freedom and then fun. Fun, for me, is enjoyment. So what drove you to start your business? And what drives you now? Don’t be afraid to be idealistic. Think back to when you started.
Then, ask this question, why do we exist? What is the purpose of our company? What energizes us and gets us going? Again, go back to that purpose.
Typically, that deeper purpose is definitely beyond just making money. Every company has the purpose of making money, otherwise it wouldn’t be a business. But keep asking why.
Why do we exist? Ask them all these questions. Why do we want to make money? Why are we in this particular business? Why are we in this particular community? What is the purpose of our business? What is driving us?
Keep asking why until you get to the core, beyond money, to look for contribution and fulfillment. Be willing to be subjective. It’s this idea of a deeper purpose. It’s not necessarily a feeling, but it’s a sense. It’s something deep within you.
I have a hard time articulating exactly what that is, but I know what it is. And I do know this is that that sense of deeper purpose must be authentic.
Keep it authentic.
Your deep purpose must be in your own words. One of the fundamental things, when you’re defining this deeper purpose, is to remember that you’re not in a marketing exercise. You’re not even necessarily going to put this on your website. In fact, the examples that I’m going to share with you here a little bit later, aren’t necessarily examples that you would even want to put on your website. You’re not really caring what other people think.
I don’t go around telling my clients that I’m in my business for freedom and fun, but I keep it in my mind all of the time and it drives how I do business and who I do business with.
Hence, avoid corporate speak. Put it in your own words. You don’t need big words. You don’t need generic words. You don’t need fancy words. You need true words to define your purpose.
Don’t do it for the approval of other people. You’re not there to make other stakeholders feel good. Again, it’s not a team-building exercise. An excellent purpose will attract some people, but it will also repel others.
This idea of articulating your deep sense of purpose is not a democratic process as well. You can receive feedback from your folks, from the people who have the skin in the game, who are in the room, but you as the owner, as the senior executive, must make the decision about how you’re going to frame that deep sense of purpose. Let people weigh in so that they can buy in.
However, if you’re hearing things that aren’t ringing true to you, then don’t just push it through just to get it over with. Consider them as well.
You don’t need to understand this deep sense of purpose to have a business. Plenty of businesses don’t. But to have a really good business, my conviction is, is that most of the really good businesses, the excellent businesses, they know that deeper purpose that’s driving them and they use that to spark real success in their organizations.
Real Examples from Real-life Companies
Let me give you some examples of purpose statements from real-life construction companies.
We’ll kick it off with a framing company. Their purpose statement is that they exist to provide and endure
A tiling subcontractor has a purpose statement to crush the competition.
A general contractor’s purpose statement is: “We deliver certainty”.
A rebar contractor exists for the enjoyment they get from problem-solving with the people they love and accomplishing things.
A fire sprinkler contractor’s purpose statement is building lives by saving lives.
An air conditioning company’s purpose statement is making people’s lives comfortable.
Notice the diversity in each of those statements? They’re all fairly subjective. They’re very personal. They’re unique. They’re phrased in a way that isn’t corporate speak.
You’re probably not going to find another purpose statement exactly like each one of those, and there’s a real sense of pride behind each one.
Some of them, (like the air conditioning company and the sprinkler company) are closely tied into the trade that they’re in.
Some of them are about the structure of the company. The framing company that says we exist to provide and indoor they’re an ESOP, so they really want to cause their business to endure over many generations.
Some are tied to what the market wants, such as the general contractor, that exists to deliver certainty. When someone is purchasing construction services, what are they looking for? They’re looking for that sense of certainty.
Finally, some of them are just personal, direct expressions of the CEO’s nature, like the tiling company that is driven to crush the competition; or family-oriented like that rebar company that exists to do things for enjoyment with the people they love.
So think about those purpose statements and reflect if you’ve crafted a purpose statement that has a unique personal aspect to it, a sense of pride, of something where you can say “Yes!”, something where it goes “Ding!”, you know? And you’re like, “Yep, that is the purpose of our business”.
How to Use Your Deep Purpose for Your Business
Now let’s talk about how to use the deep purpose of your business in your daily decisions.
The purpose of Nike, the shoe company, is to crush Adidas so they’re highly competitive. That really drives the culture of their organization in many ways. Hence, if you have clearly defined your deeper purpose, it’s going to help you when you’re thinking about who to hire, who to retain, and who to fire.
Think about Amazon. Amazon is a hardcore company. I don’t know Jeff Bezos personally. I love using Amazon Services. But when I think of Bezos, I think of a hardcore guy. He comes across in the videos sometimes as this goofy, kind of nerdy dude, but beneath that exterior, there’s this hard interior. And I think it’s demonstrated in the way that that business is run. If you’re not a hard person, if you’re not a driven person, then you’re not going to succeed at Amazon.
Think about Nordstrom’s. I tell a story about how I bought some sunglasses at Nordstrom’s. I had my wife take them back because I messed them up and Nordstrom’s replaced them. They didn’t even ask any questions about it. That’s because their purpose is to take care of their customers, and that drives their policies.
Think about Apple. They’re obsessed with quality, and so it drives their processes in terms of how they design and manufacture their products.
Hence, that deep sense of purpose affects the people that work for you. It affects the way that you structure your policies and your processes. It can even affect your customers.
As I said, the purpose of my business is freedom and fun. Thus, I don’t work with people I don’t like. That’s just what I do. I don’t work with people I don’t like because it’s no fun working with people that you don’t like. So, your deep sense of purpose drives who you actually do business with as well.
It can also drive your strategy: which jobs you’re going to pick, which locations you’re going to work in, which clients are you going to work for… all of these things are practical examples of how to use deep purpose in your daily decisions and it’s one of the wonderful things about it too. It’s like a filter. It’s a way of orienting yourself when you’re faced with how to make decisions and what to do. That sense of going back to your deep purpose all the time and asking yourself, is this decision in alignment with my purpose? Because if it’s not that, you don’t want to make it.
It’s not a marketing exercise.
Now, as you’re reading this, you might be saying. “I don’t need another purpose other than making money. I don’t care if it’s construction or selling widgets or something like that. I don’t need another purpose. Making money is sufficient”.
And I say, fair enough. I know how hard it is to make money, and if someone’s writing you checks in a legitimate business, it’s because you are solving their problems or adding value.
But for most people, like I said, making money isn’t enough.
Maybe you’ve tried this idea of crafting a purpose statement and maybe you came up with one that was kind of corporate speaking and it didn’t do anything. Let me just encourage you to insist on authenticity. Just craft a purpose statement in the way that you speak.
Understand, it’s not a marketing exercise. It’s just for your stakeholders. For the folks that have skin in the game. You don’t even have to necessarily tell your other employees about it. As long as you know it and your stakeholders know it and it’s driving your business, you don’t necessarily have to tell others about it.
And again, if you struggle with articulating that. Purpose statement, then you may need a facilitator to help you with that.
To Sum Up
We’ve talked about why having a deep purpose is important and how to craft the deep purpose of your business.
I’ve also given you some practical examples from real-life construction companies.
We’ve talked about how to use the deep purpose of your business in your daily decisions.
As I was saying at the beginning, the basic purpose of a car is to get you from A to B. It’s a transportation vehicle. But there’s a deeper reason why people drive the cars that they do.
For years we drove the Honda Odyssey, then we upgraded to the Yukon. And I’ll tell you why. Man, the nice thing I like about the Yukon is you can roll in that sucker. We drove out to Colorado last year and then we rolled in that thing. It’s silver. It’s kind of big. It’s got a nice stereo. It’s got TV screens for the kids. It’s more comfortable than the Odyssey. And you know what? It’s cooler. And that’s what my wife likes. She was done looking like a mom in our Odyssey and now she’s rolling in the GMC Yukon. There’s a deeper purpose that was driving her. Plus, she likes being a little bit above the crowd in the SUV. It makes her feel a little safer.
So things like safety, that cool factor, that comfort factor…all of those things were driving the purchase of the GMC Yukon.
We’ve also talked about how your next step is to define your deeper purpose. Gather your team and begin the conversation. Set aside time. Put away the phones. Put away the computers. Get a whiteboard or a flip chart or something like that. And begin the conversation. Why do we exist? What’s the deeper purpose of our business? Once you’ve done that, make sure that you begin to align your policies and your procedures, who you hire, who you fire around that purpose. And if you’ve already done it, ask yourself, do I like my purpose statement? Is it actually real? Does it sound like me or does it sound fake and corporate? If not, then change it. Go back through the process of finding your deeper purpose again.
And if you have to find that deeper purpose and it rings true, but you’re not living according to it, then feel free to recommit to it.
Get your key stakeholders in the room and say, “Hey, listen, guys, we haven’t been living out our purpose, but we are going to do that from now on”.
If that means you have to move some people out of your business, do that. If you need to fire some customers as a result of that, do it. If you need to change some policies and procedures. Do that as well. Allow your deeper purpose to drive your business.
About the Author
If you are a construction company CEO and you need some help facilitating your meetings where you’re going to explore this deeper purpose, feel free to reach out.
I’m not fit for everybody and I’m definitely not inexpensive when it comes to facilitation, but at least we can have a discussion and see if or how I can help you.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.